The post-Covid19 economic recovery needs to be one that breaks the strong correlation between economic growth and CO2 emissions. It is to be a sustainable economic recovery; there is a true need and opportunity to define the New Normal following the full meaning of sustainability: environmental, social and economic.
On a macro-scale that will be dictated by actions taken by governments and international organisations. Those macro-level actions will also need to enable, or at least facilitate or not impede, micro-level actions that each of us, as individuals and as part of society, can do and must consider.
A recent report has analysed over 7,000 different studies to identify the options that bring more significant reductions to our carbon footprint. The top ten are (in tonnes CO2/person/year): live car-free (2.04), battery electric car (1.95), one less long-haul flight per year (1.68), renewable energy (1.6), public transport (0.98), refurbishment / renovation of buildings (0.895), vegan diet (0.8), use of heat pumps (0.795), improved cooking equipment (0.65) and renewable-based heating (0.64).
Without a detailed analysis of the methodology and the boundaries used it is difficult to assess the accuracy of the results but putting that aside for now, the list raises some thoughts, some of which are linked to the effects of the current pandemic:
Very little difference between living car free or having an electric car: How many people would chose not using a car, unless you live in big cities? What about living car free apart from renting or car pooling electric cars?
Less long-haul flights: There will certainly be less of those in the short-term. What will be the long-term impact? Continuing the fuel efficiency improvements in the aviation sector is an opportunity to compound savings if air traffic is somewhat reduced. This could be seen as a personal decision but can also be influenced by the approach taken to carbon tax.
Renewable energy: Working on the assumption that electricity companies use renewable energy sources in their green tariffs raises a personal decision. There are certainly green tariffs that are comparable or even cheaper than those from fossil-fuels. During these last months investment in fossil fuels has dropped by 30% compared to a 10% drop in renewable energy. This provides an opportunity for a shift and to establish renewable energy as the main contributor. This is of ever-increasing importance as we move towards heating provided from electricity which covers, in part, two other points in the list (heat pumps and renewable-base heating).
Public transport: On one hand public transport is expected to suffer in the coming months and at the same time we will see an increase in working from home arrangements and on walking and cycling, an opportunity to partially re-design how we move around in our communities. Public transport of course will also be reducing its carbon emissions in the future through the use of electricity and fuel cells.
Refurbishment/renovation of buildings: This is actually one of the trickiest but at the same time one with significant opportunities that go beyond its carbon reduction potential. It requires a radical transformation to construction and funding, and a robust government plan to deliver it, including potential changes to the tax system. A key aspect is that it is a labour-intensive process, often a local labour-intensive process in addition to off-site manufacturing opportunities. It has a significant potential to employ many people and therefore contribute to a green sustainable economic recovery.
Vegan diet: Without entering into controversies or existential dilemmas, we also have the option of moderating meat consumption to healthier levels.
Finally, improved cooking conditions are more applicable to developing countries in the study.
Other actions that are not in that list include green roofs, using less paper, buying more durable items, turning down the thermostat and recycling. Even if that is the case, I see no reason not to continue encouraging and delivering them as I don't see they stop us from addressing the top-ten actions.
The Covid19 pandemic has brought focus to an immediate world-wide threat. There is another one that has been lurking for quite some time and it is pretty much in our face as a global society. It will be more difficult to predict and quantify its economic effects and casualties but do we need very precise numbers to convince ourselves about the urgency of taking action? Studies and surveys show that the majority of people think in the long-term climate change is as serious as a crisis as Covid19, though there is something to be said about the wording of the question.
About their root causes it can be argued climate change is the one we have more of a say and responsibility on. In any case, both crisis are a manifestation of our relationship with nature and our environment, on World Environmental Day and on any other day.
Climate change can still be tackled – but only if people are willing to embrace major shifts in the way we live, a report says. The authors have put together a list of the best ways for people to reduce their carbon footprints. The response to the Covid-19 crisis has shown that the public is willing to accept radical change if they consider it necessary, they explain.